Going it alone
If we enjoy working hard, thrive on internet communication, have a good grasp of language or a track record which includes prior publication, and if we have more ideas than we know what to do with, we may find ourselves going it alone, and contemplating self-publishing. This is an entirely feasible alternative to the mainstream options most of us dream of reaching one day.
More and more people are happy to download books direct from the internet and pay a fraction of the cover price for new printed books. If we do find a seam of readers who enjoy reading printed copy, there are distributors and printers who will produce small numbers of books, relatively cheaply and post them anywhere in the world. Amazon offers printing and distribution networks that even ten years ago would have been considered too ambitious to work, and which are now becoming commonplace. Self-publishing, blogging, and e-books sites such as ‘Smashwords’ and ‘CreateSpace’ place the power of publication at our fingertips.
There are obvious advantages: we retain control, our outlays are calculable, and our royalty percentages are higher than with traditional publishers. The disadvantages are worth a mention, though. While the publication process itself is straightforward, and there are many tools to help us get the best from our material, the end product is all that consumers are interested in. They don’t care that what they are reading on their kindles is “all our own work”.
Are we able to assess our work with a cool eye and produce a clean, professional-looking package? Do we have the experience as a writer to care about the details of presentation, the syntax, the grammar and the typos that can so quickly alienate readers? Has our editing been tempered by comments, opinions and feedback from others? And can we build a marketing base to get our work out to a wider audience? If we can answer confidently yes, then we have the best start possible on the competition. There is always the possibility that, should we choose to publish independently, our book may be discovered and picked up by a mainstream publisher, though there are publishers who simply will not take on any book that has been self-published.
Traditional publishers invest substantial sums before they see any return, so it is perhaps not surprising that they are reluctant to take on self-published books. There are stories in the press every day about authors who have been ‘found’ by the mainstream and signed up on traditional contracts. The best hope, it seems, for someone hoping to migrate from self-publishing to the mainstream – apart from sheer dogged persistence and a sprinkling of spectacular good luck – is to find a commissioning editor who likes what we write, and is prepared to consider new work from us.
Publicity and self-promotion are the main bugbears of going it alone. It is at the coalface of sales that we discover how willing we are to leave our desk, make appointments to meet sales people, smile and approach booksellers, offer promotions for our work, competitions or publicity opportunities to our local media. If, having made the decision to go it alone, this transition proves difficult, we may have to accept that writing success remains a semi-private dream (no material uploaded on the web is private) or pin our hopes on a more conventional good luck story. Whichever way we take to the road, we can be sure it will be a long one, with lots of opportunities for making fools of ourselves, failing and faltering. What matters is not reaching some shifting shore we call success, so much as whether we enjoy the journey.
The school holidays start today, and I will be checking in from time to time over the vacation. Meantime, thanks for reading – I enjoy all your comments!